The Death of the Mythical Messiah

No, of course I don’t think this post will end mythicism or even discussion of mythicism. But I still find myself most puzzled by mythicists’ treatment of the crucifixion. If we only had the Letter to the Hebrews, I might find the mythicist account of things more persuasive: when the action takes place in a heavenly tabernacle, the protagonist of the story might indeed be a purely mythical creation.
But what Hebrews says about the sacrifice of Jesus being offered in the celestial archetypal tabernacle does not harmonize natually with the language of crucifixion. Sources do not tell us about Jesus having his throat slit and his blood poured out on the altar (the most basic step in offering sacrifice) but about his crucifixion.
I recall that Doherty emphasizes the role of “those ruling this age” in carrying this out, and this too could be mythical. But we know from multiple sources that demonic forces were sometimes believed in this time and cultural context to possess humans and act through them, and so belief in demonic involvement is not incompatible with belief that real historical humans were involved.
The real question for me is why, when we know that crucifixion was a Roman method of execution, and those authors who later provided narratives understood Jesus to have been crucified by the Romans, and no author explicitly locates the crucifixion anywhere other than on earth, why are some nevertheless persuaded not only that other interpretations of this material are possible (lots of things are possible), but that a mythicist interpretation is more probable than a historicist one? If you are fully persuaded that the earliest Christians thought Jesus was executed somewhere other than on earth, where do you think it happened, and what leads you to draw that conclusion?

  • http://www.thegoldenrule1.wordpress.com Mike Koke

    Along those lines I am also curious how the emphasis in Hebrews 2 that Jesus was made lower than the angels (an allusion to the Psalm 8 about the son of man [humanity] as created lower than the angels) and how he had to share in flesh and blood and that he had to become like his brothers in all things, or how the reference to Jesus suffering outside the city gate in Hebrews 13:12 is re-interpreted.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12887786896056573371 Neil

    Do get real, James. You have no idea what you are talking about here. You are only earning the accolades of others who are as ignorant of mythicism as yourself. No-one says that the gospel accounts portray an event anywhere but on earth. The hypothesis that the crucifixion was thought to be other than on earth does indeed have plausible evidence to support it, but it is by no means the view of all (maybe not even most) mythicists. Yet you equate mythicism with this one particular explanation. If you want to know the substance of the "non-earthly realm" argument, are you seriously intending to rely on blog comments as your source of information? Why not read it at the source for yourself?What do you mean by the interpretation of "this material" exactly, and what do you mean exactly by "earliest Christians"? Your question is couched in assumptions and models that betray a complete lack of awareness of Doherty's argument. How about actually checking sources and evidence for yourself. Mythicists, after all, do know what they are talking about when they address mainstream scholarly works (and they do, extensively), but you seem to think you only have to rely on second or third hand reports of critics.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Neil, my idea of getting real on this subject could involve any number of things, including perhaps mythicists who have commented and criticized what I've written, and think I should have a better grasp of mythicism, providing me with suggestions for further reading and perhaps a summary of their own views.Perhaps you'd be so kind as to explain your own view? Is it that some Christian prior to Paul made up a story about a historical Messiah who was crucified? Any thoughts on what might have motivated someone to do so? Any evidence that someone actually did that? If Paul believed that Jesus was crucified in the recent past, and believed he had met individuals who had known Jesus, then I'd be delighted if rather than insulting me you would explain how one accounts for this without either a historical Jesus or a conspiracy. It may be that I'm particularly obtuse – we should all be open to that as a possibility – but if so it seems to be an obtuseness I share with most historians and New Testament scholars, and so I take comfort in the fact that at least I'm not alone.I've posted this hoping for clarification. Please do provide some – I'm genuinely interested! I've provided explanations of what I think and why I think it. Surely you are not suggesting, when I'm trying to actually listen to what mythicists have to say, that I'm asking too much in expecting that they might do the same?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12887786896056573371 Neil

    I have no hypothetical scenarios in mind such that you are asking me to give. The fact that you ask them of me misses the point. I am addressing your misrepresentation of others. My views are irrelevant.I do not even like the idea of appearing to sound as if I am defending "mythicism" per se, because to argue like that is to commit oneself to a certain explanation and resist alternative possibilities. But I do take exception when public intellectuals fail their audiences by publicly spreading baseless arguments and misrepresentations against alternative viewpoints. As for insults, you have delivered insult after insult — mixed with outright misrepresentation — of mythicists in your blog posts.Creationists dishonestly misrepresent evolutionists and their publications. Why are you following their tactics?If you seriously want to know what reasons others have for thinking differently from you, you would not be casting slurs against them before you even ask!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I don't understand, Neil. You defend mythicism as legitimate and even likely, but have no plausible scenario to offer, no argument even if it is someone else's. What is common in debates with creationists is for them to make claims and argue for fair treatment of their views, but when pressed on details, their supposed arguments begin to evaporate. I'm happy to have the comparison I've been making to creationism challenged, but you're not doing that so far.

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com Tom Verenna

    James,I discuss this quite thoroughly in Ch. 6 of my 'Of Men and Muses' and in an upcoming treatment to be published in a collection of essays to be published through CIS that I am working on with Thomas Thompson. If you'd like I can send you a copy–part of the reason I called you earlier today.Best,Tom

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Sounds interesting – I'll try to take a look at what you've already written, and perhaps we can talk more about the forthcoming volume you mentioned once things get a bit less hectic for me. Of course, that I keep blogging about this subject and responding to comments is entirely my own fault! :)

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com Tom Verenna

    James,I have always enjoyed our conversations even when things get heated. You truly are a pleasure to converse with. Thanks for keeping the conversation going; that is far more than what others have done in the past. Even if I get offended at times or find myself disagreeing with your interpretation of the data, I find it a credit to you that you don't mind blogging and discussing this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    So, James, it seems as if this is the bedrock fact that you feel must be historical: that Jesus Christ was crucified. You state that crucifixion was a Roman method of execution. This is certainly true. Was it exclusively Roman? Alexander the Great would be interested to know that fact, given that he crucified over 2000 survivors of the siege of Tyre. Is it your argument that he got the technique from the fledgling Roman state?And again, you seem to suggest that any reference in any Christian document to crucifixion must therefore refer to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth in exactly the time and place described in the synoptic gospels. Fleshing the argument out a bit — your argument then would be that if ANY Jewish sage had been crucified during the era of Pontius Pilate, that would verify a "historical core" to the gospels.If that is your argument, then you win. It's undoubtedly true that some Jewish sage was executed by Pilate.But wait, aren't there mainstream scholars that are historicists to the core regarding the existence of Jesus of Nazareth who doubt that he was crucified in anything like the way the texts suggest? Crossan believes that Jesus was one of many crucified in a mass execution and that his body was eaten by dogs. Does this make him a mythicist? Certainly none of the synoptic texts suggests anything like this. Bishop Spong believes the crucifixion narratives all derive from OT antecedents. Does this make him a mythicist? Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified. Are they mythicists?Would you argue that the Muslim position is like creationism?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Evan, please do not confuse the question of whether he was crucified, about which historians agree, with the question of his burial. Crossan seems to have backtracked a little on the "thrown to the dogs" idea, since scholars have pointed out in response the importance of burial in Judaism, as attested for instance by Josephus.What Muslims believed starting many centuries later is of no historical relevance.Lots of people were crucified, but we're talking about whether a man named Jesus whom Christians later claimed was the Messiah was crucified. And the evidence suggests yes. It is possible to be confident about an occurrence without being certain about the precise time of day, or location, is it not?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thanks, Tom. I think it will be good for me that I need to try to focus on a couple of other things over the next few days. I may comment or blog on and off (I rarely manage to stop for long), but it will probably give a chance for some of us to "cool down" a little – although that depends on how the conversation continues in the mean time! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Moving further on your analogies, here are some bedrock facts about evolution that are not disputed by anyone, much less by leading names in the field:1. Organisms vary genetically2. Evolution is the change in gene frequency of a population3. The earth is billions of years old.4. DNA, RNA and rarely proteins are the genetic codes that selection acts on.5. Predation, parasitism, inter and intra-species competition for resources and environmental conditions can all act as selection pressures.6. Mankind descended from common ancestors of us and the great apes.I could go on … Can you list 6 undisputed facts off the top of your head about the historical Jesus that are agreed upon by leading historicists?

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/ mikew1584

    Evan, since you your self dispute that there are historical facts about Jesus, there are no undisputed facts about Jesus. Furthermore since some one disputes evolution and the old age of the earth, your facts about evolution are not in fact "not disputed by anyone". So are there any facts about the mythical Christ theory that are undisputed and agreed upon by leading historians? The whole mythical Christ theory seems to rest on the idea that if their are questions in other theories then this theory must be true. No need to support it, because it makes me feel good. The great revelation to pull the scales of the eyes of the deceived if only they had the faith to see.Can any of you point to some positive evidence? It doesn't work to just say fill in the blank with my idea. You have to have a reason why this idea should be considered. Paul could have strolled around in a tuxedo and top hat. I don't know, he doesn't talk about his wardrobe. Does that really make it likely that he did? Before I put that out as his most likely attire shouldn't I produce some evidence?I say this because folks in these blogs have been unrolling evidence for Jesus being a real person who's brother was James and disciple was Peter etc. and the response is always something like "well I wasn't there to see it, or it's not proven the way the age of the Earth has". How does the mythic Christ theory stand up to that standard? What magic book do they have that has indisputable history? Did top geneticist conclude that James is not Jesus' brother and thus it must mean that James is a part of an otherwise unknown brotherhood of the Lord?

  • GakuseiDon

    @ Neil,I second James' request: Can you lay out the case for mythicism that you would like James and other historicists to answer, please? Even if you aren't a mythicist yourself, you have been asking for the mythicist case to be answered. In your blog, you wrote that you wanted James to be "serious about understanding the mythicist case" and not to "embrace rumour or second hand information".There are lots of books pushing mythicism, some which I'm sure you agree are a waste of time (Acharya S, for example). Can you give us the mythicist case that needs to be answered, please? I'll note that this is not the first time that this has been asked of you.Here is my case for a historical Jesus, on the board that you frequent. I'd be interested in your comments there. Thanks.http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=3&t;=108778

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Here are six from E. P. Sanders' lists of core reliable information in two of his books on the historical Jesus (Jesus and Judaism and The Historical Figure of Jesus:Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.Jesus called disciples.He preached “the kingdom of God”. Jesus engaged in a controversy about the temple.Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by the Roman authorities.After his death, his followers continued as an identifiable movement.

  • Antonio Jerez

    James,to which one may add that basically all historicists, be they atheists, agnostics or believers, agree that Jesus came from Nazareth, Galilee.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I was asked for six and so I picked six, focusing on points that were identical in both Sanders' lists and that there is almost universal agreement on. Nazareth gets a mention in the list in his more recent book, which is much more of an attempt to treat the historical Jesus as a whole, rather than focusing on one specific question.There have been attempts to argue for Bethlehem, though, whether the famous on in Judaea or the less well known one in Galilee (see for instance Jerome Murphy-O'Connor and Bruce Chilton respectively).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Dr. McGrath,Could it be argued that Paul provides little support for any of the six points?

  • Antonio Jerez

    James,I was not talking about wheather Jesus was born in Bethlehem or Nazareth. On that topic historicists are in deep disagreement – liberal Christian and secular historicists usually being sceptical about Bethlehem while concervative christian historicists preferring Bethlehem. But what practically all historicists agree about is that Jesus was raised in Galilee, and that includes Murphy O´Connor.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Sorry,should have said that Jesus was "raised in Nazareth, Galilee".

  • Antonio Jerez

    Vinny,please start getting serious. Paul corborates at least point 2,3 and 6 on James list. And instead of serving us platitudes I am eagerly waiting for the moment when you are finally going to tell us which mythicist position that you find most plausible.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Antonio,I'm sorry that you don't think I'm serious, but Paul doesn't refers to Jesus having disciples and he doesn't describe his contemporaries as having followed Jesus prior to his death. I am unaware of Paul ever discussing what Jesus preached.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Vinny,I suppose it is because you haven´t read Paul´s letters close enough or because you may find arguments from mythicists persuasive that Paul´s references about things like the divore command coming from the "Lord" is not really coming from an earthly Jesus but coming from the sublunar Lord. And I would find it more interesting if you could finally give us some indication of what you believe in (or find persuasive) instead of just serving us statements about what you don´t believe in (or find unpersuasive),

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Antonio,I am perfectly willing to accept that Paul believed Jesus to be an actual flesh and blood human being who lived on the earth. However, I have my doubts that Paul thought that anyone he knew had talked, walked, or eaten with Jesus prior to his death. I am aware that Paul attributes a teaching about divorce and one about supporting preachers to the Lord, but he doesn't seem to attribute anything he says about the kingdom of god to Jesus. Moreover, Paul seems to indicate that everything he knows about Jesus he got by direct revelation rather than having anything passed on by anyone who knew Jesus.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Well, it all depends on how you interpret the relevant passages in Galatians 1:11 and 2:12. Personally I find the more plausible reading being that when Paul is talking about the Gospel revealed to him directly it is his particular brand of the Gospel – a gospel without circumcision for Gentiles. Paul knew that other Gospels were in circulation in the Church and countered it with a direct Revelation. Which doesn´t rule out that much of Paul´s Gospel was centered around traditions about the earthly Jesus that he had received from Peter and the others. Like the divorce commands and the support for preachers. I also wonder when and how you think Paul got the conviction that the heavenly Lord that he had only met through revelations had once in a time been a real life and blood person? Was it Kephas, James and the others who taught Paul that there was more to the heavenly Lord than a voice from heaven or a vision from the sublunar spheres? And are we to believe that Paul may once in a time have dedicated his time to persecuting a Jewish sect led by a Phantom Messiah, only to later "meet" the Phantom Messiah in person and even later learning that the Phantom Messiah had once in a time been a real person after all.

  • C.J. O’Brien

    Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.Jesus called disciples.He preached “the kingdom of God”. Jesus engaged in a controversy about the temple.Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by the Roman authorities.After his death, his followers continued as an identifiable movement.The problem is, we have no textual evidence for any of these points before Mark. Somebody please enlighten me why it is so improbable that the author of that book invented these as features of his narrative, because I just don't get it. Now I know that the typical approach to scholarship on Mark is to try and identify "pre-Markan sources" in the text. Can somebody also offer a justification for this practice other than the need for an earlier foundation for Sanders's six historical claims?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Antonio, I think the fact that Paul went out and preached for three years before he even met any of the others works against the conclusion that much of Paul’s gospel was centered on traditions he received from them.The heavenly lord who appeared to Paul could have revealed to him that he had once been a flesh and blood person. Paul could have learned from members of the Jewish sect that he persecuted that they believed that the risen Messiah who had appeared to some of them had once been a real person. I would guess that this was always part of the sect’s beliefs; however, it would not surprise me if Paul was under some misapprehensions. If he used torture to extract confessions or used informants to get information, he probably heard some stories that were invented by people who hoped to escape persecution by telling Paul what they thought he wanted to hear.I am not really sure what we should believe about how Paul came to his conclusions about Jesus’ humanity or historicity or if we should have any firm beliefs. Given how little information Paul gives us about the historical Jesus or the believers who preceded him, I think that almost any possibility we might suggest would be little more than speculation. That’s the way history goes some times.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    So going through your list: 1. Jesus was baptized by JtB.This is present nowhere in the epistles and cannot be substantiated from any source other than the gospels — the veracity of which is at issue here. However, the Jesus seminar did support it as one of the verifiable historical events. (not as if they used a method I consider valid, but at least they will arbit what is within the purview of recognized historicist beliefs).Do you have any extra-evangelistic source for this? I still give you this one as widely agreed upon.2. The calling of the 12.The Jesus seminar does not support this as historical. No credit.The Jesus Seminar cannot be considered outside the mainstream of historicist scholarship almost by definition.3. Jesus preached "the Kingdom of God".This is very nebulous and might be used to describe any 1st century wandering preacher. That being said, no sayings that I can find on the Jesus Seminar's list of red-beaded sayings (or even pink-beaded) agree with this statement. Again, no credit. Jesus seminar disagreement will not earn you any credit. You're so far batting .333. Did I misstate ANY of the 6 things about evolution that I listed off the top of my head? Is there any disagreement about any of those facts of evolution by any credible scholar, much less by a SEMINAR composed of the leading lights of biology?4. Jesus engaged in a controversy about the temple.The temple incident did NOT earn a red bead from the JS. It's pink. Sorry, pink indicates significant disagreement among mainstream, historical scholars. To be generous, I'll give you a quarter point. You're up to 1.25 facts agreed on with 2 to go. 5. Crucifixion by Roman authorities.Again, are there no Muslim mainstream scholars? If so — there is disagreement about this fact. The JS does not list Roman authorities as part of the crucifixion and considers EVERY gospel account of the crucifixion fictive. This is solid? This is universal agreement?I'll give you the full point anyway. Up to 2.25.6. After his death, his followers continued with an identifiable movement.Sorry — you can't assume the antecedent. This one cannot count as proof of a historical Jesus because it is unfalsifiable. If you find any Jesus movement after the supposed death of Jesus, you get to count it. However, there is no way to differentiate the development of a Jesus movement without the death of a purported founder from one with the death, therefore you can't get credit for this, and certainly nobody on either side disputes the subsequent existence of Christians.So of the 6 "facts" off the top of your head that you suggest are undisputed, I'm giving you 2.25 — again, at the risk of offending any historicist Muslim by doing so — and that was easy.Can you give me six REAL facts that the JS and EP Sanders agree on?

  • Antonio Jerez

    C J,let us take the point that is the hardest one to explain for mythicists."Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by the Roman authorities."Why would Mark invent a crucified Messiah in Jerusalem if that appears to have been such a hard thing to sell to both Jews and Gentiles? Why not invent something else?

  • C.J. O’Brien

    Why would Mark invent a crucified Messiah in Jerusalem if that appears to have been such a hard thing to sell to both Jews and Gentiles? Why not invent something else?The author of Mark didn't invent the myth, he invented a chronos narrative to expand and interpret the kairos event of debasement/exaltation of the messiah who was "pierced for our transgressions" (Isaiah). The specificity of the means of execution, crucifixion, is a Pauline detail, which the author of Mark inherited from the Christ cults. This author was responsible for the setting, Jerusalem, the time, Passover (though this could be partly determined by the Pauline meal tradition), the betrayal by Judas, and the two equally responsible parties (the Sanhedrin and Pilate).As to why a crucified Lord in the (pre-Markan) first place, that is the question. Such mythic reversals are a commonplace of ANE literature, though. It's a reimagination of the messiah as a redemptive figure, opposed to the idea of a political/military leader endorsed by other segments of Greco-Roman Palestinian Judaism.Given the trouble that Peter and the other disciples have with this radical reconception of the messiah in the Markan narrative, I think it's clear that the author understood full well that it did not comport with standard 1st century messianic expectations, and that he was quite self-consciously creating "new wineskins" for the "new wine" represented by his gospel. "The way of the cross" is a hard road in Mark, no doubt about it. He didn't want 'an easy sell,' he wanted to tell hard truths.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    Evan, thanks for the for the 2.25. I'll go ahead and take away one in deference to Early Muslim opinion because what the hey, maybe Mohammad had some good information on Jesus' crucification rather than just hearing gnostic accounts. 1.25, 1.24 points of undisputed evidence more than is needed to dismiss the mythic Jesus.

  • Antonio Jerez

    C J,at last things are starting to sound interesting. So according to your version of events Paul was the one who "invented" the idea of a crucified Messiah(on earth? Or in the sublunar sphere like Doherty?). Then a fellow named Mark came along and thought he could be a bit more specific about where the crucifixion did take place and by visions or revelations happened to find inspiration in places like the Servant verses in Isaiah, biblical verses that naturally lend themselves towards "chronos narratives" about a galilean wonderworker being crucified on a specific hill in Jerusalem under a specific Roman governor. The only problem is that resorting to explanations like the Servant verses or reversals that are commonplace in ANE litterature (not commonplace in the hebrew literature though..) doesn´t really explain why Mark couldn´t just as well have put the crucifixion on some obscure hill in Galilee. But I suppose that he didn´t care if he was opening himself up to ridicule from contemporary Jews who might probably have been in a position to challenge Mark´s claim that a galilean wonderworker named Jesus from Nazareth had ever been crucified in Jerusalen under Pontious Pilate. Just as I suppose that it doesn´t bother mythicists the least that no Jewish sources EVER question the existence of Jesus from Nazareth. And I suppose that you already know that my opinion is that you are putting the cart before the horse.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Vinny,a lot of could haves and maybes. Yes, I suppose that theoretically the High Priests in Jerusalem could have been eager to persecute a small messianic sect even if the High Priests must have known that no Jesus of Nazareth was executed in Jerusalem in the 30ies. But personally I doubt that the High Priests and Paul would have been eager to persecute a Jewish sect led by a Phantom Messiah. And I suppose it might well have been under torture that some of the Phantom Messiahs deluded followers came up with the idea that their Phantom Messiah had once in a time made a command forbidding divorce ( something no living or phantom Jew had ever made before) and command to love of enemies (something no living or phantom Jew had ever done before)…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Mike, if Darwin's theory of evolution rested on one very disputable fact, people who didn't accept it would not be ignoring mountains of evidence.

  • C.J. O’Brien

    So according to your version of events Paul was the one who "invented" the idea of a crucified Messiah(on earth? Or in the sublunar sphere like Doherty?). Then a fellow named Mark came along and thought he could be a bit more specific about where the crucifixion did take place and by visions or revelations happened to find inspiration in places like the Servant verses in Isaiah, biblical verses that naturally lend themselves towards "chronos narratives" about a galilean wonderworker being crucified on a specific hill in Jerusalem under a specific Roman governor. The only problem is that resorting to explanations like the Servant verses or reversals that are commonplace in ANE litterature (not commonplace in the hebrew literature though..) doesn´t really explain why Mark couldn´t just as well have put the crucifixion on some obscure hill in Galilee. I think it's likely that Paul or a contemporary added the specificity of crucifixion to a myth about a salvific figure who had been executed by some unspecified method, yes. But we know from Paul that he inherited the broader mythical matrix.There was no "fellow named Mark." There's a book that now carries that name by an anonymous author.I find it hard to say one way or the other whether the prophetic literature in question "lended itself naturally" to the kind of narrative the author of Mark had in mind. Does The Odyssey "lend itself naturally" to Joyce's Ulysses? But the unrequited quest for pre-Markan sources, in my view, devalues the imaginative work that the author of Mark did.If he's writing a historicized narrative about a pre-existent (in literature) mythical figure, yes, he's going to add a specific setting and historical personages for versimilitude. The choice of Jerusalem is hardly arbitrary. The Jesus of Mark is challenging the political economy and the religious and social elites of his world. The Temple in Jerusalem is at the center of everything he wants to challenge. So an obscure hill in Galilee doesn't suit his purposes at all. One of the key themes in the work is periphery versus center. The Way, the path to Jerusalem is a march right to the symbolic center of the forces of dispossession and opression. As for whether this kind of apocalyptic myth was common in the Hebrew literature, you're just wrong. Read Daniel. Read non-canonical literature like Wisdom of Solomon, 2 Baruch and 1 Enoch. The author of Mark was demonstrably tapping into the literary currents of his age….continued

  • C.J. O’Brien

    But I suppose that he didn´t care if he was opening himself up to ridicule from contemporary Jews who might probably have been in a position to challenge Mark´s claim that a galilean wonderworker named Jesus from Nazareth had ever been crucified in Jerusalen under Pontious Pilate. Just as I suppose that it doesn´t bother mythicists the least that no Jewish sources EVER question the existence of Jesus from Nazareth.And I suppose that you already know that my opinion is that you are putting the cart before the horse.No, the author is keenly aware that his narrative will engender hostility from contemporary Jews, that much is clear from the text itself. No Jewish sources question the existence of the figure because that's generally not how ancient persons questioned the redemptive mythical traditions to which they were opposed. I think it gets lost sight of: we're dealing with ancient worldviews and thought-ways alien to our own generally emprico-rational outlook. In the ancient world, you critiqued the meaning and significance of your opponents' meta-narrratives, not the mundane background details found in their literary expressions. Osiris was widely believed to have been a king of Egypt in a lost golden age, after all. What was disputed were the mythical elements. Once you stopped granting simple existence to the figures in these narratives, as opposed to denying their significance, you as much as admitted that myths, all myths, were not exactly grounded in any tangible reality at all. Since essentially every person had a mythical lens through which they understood the world, this was not a natural step as it is for us.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Antonio,I haven’t made any claim about anyone ever believing in a phantom Messiah.I don’t claim that any specific belief was the product of torture. I would simply note that religious zealots who persecute people of different faiths often don’t have a very clear understanding of those other faiths, e.g., the belief that Jews used the blood of Christian babies in their rituals. Since Paul doesn’t say that his persecution of that sect had anything to do with the particular time and place that Jesus was crucified or the particular town that he came from, I can’t imagine how the High Priest’s knowledge of who had or hadn’t been crucified in Jerusalem in the 30’s is relevant.I am curious how you happen to know every thing that every living (and phantom) Jew ever commanded before Paul’s time, although I hardly see how that’s relevant either. Clearly some Jew came up with these things sometime in the first century. The question is which one.

  • Antonio Jerez

    "Clearly some Jew came up with these things sometime in the first century. The question is which one." Vinny: And why not use Occams razor? Why use flights of imagination that leads one into more and more farfetched explanations?

  • Antonio Jerez

    C J: "No Jewish sources question the existence of the figure because that's generally not how ancient persons questioned the redemptive mythical traditions to which they were opposed." You make it sound like all ancients were a bunch of dimwits who had no interest in questioning the veracity of religious myths or the claims of rival religious groups. I don´t buy it. I am sure the Sadducees in Jerusalem thought the Osiris cult was a stupidity, but Ananus was no more able than a fellow like me of proving that a egyptian god living thousands of years back in time was just a phantasy. But I think Ananus could easily prove if a galilean miracle worker had not been executed in Jerusalem a just a couple of decades back in time. And given that Ananus and the others were educated people, not simple peasants, I don´t see how they would have missed an opportunity to cut right at the root of a rival sect. Just like the later rabbis never cut at the root of the Christians.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Antonio,The only far fetched explanations I see are the ones that you keep attributing to me and I don't know whether Occam's razor is capable of cutting through those.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Vinny,I don´t really know which kind of greater explanation you would give for the Jesus phenomenon. Except for speculation that some unidentified fellow may have come up with a pretty unique love and divorce command under torture or in some other unidentified circumstances. Never mind that both Paul and the gospels attribute it to Jesus. With that kind of weighing of the evidence other mythicists digging into Islam could just as easily claim that none of the suras in the Quran or none of the Hadiths come from the mouth of Muhammed but from a scattered bunch of unidentified arabs in an unidentified location and time. I am guess somebody has already come up with that idea somwhere on the internet.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Antonio,I'm bored with this game. Let's play something else.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Vinny,I suppose it is because you have played this game too many times already on the internet. I am just plain tired. It is almost 4 am here in Sweden and the Winter Olympics have just started, but I am going to bed anyway :)

  • C.J. O’Brien

    You make it sound like all ancients were a bunch of dimwits who had no interest in questioning the veracity of religious myths or the claims of rival religious groups. This is a gross misrepresentation of what I wrote. I'm beginning to feel like I'm wasting my time with this convesation.If you don't think there are significant differences between how ancient men and women thought about these matters and how we moderns do, you're not dealing with issues that are central to the discussion.I am sure the Sadducees in Jerusalem thought the Osiris cult was a stupidity, but Ananus was no more able than a fellow like me of proving that a egyptian god living thousands of years back in time was just a phantasy. But I think Ananus could easily prove if a galilean miracle worker had not been executed in Jerusalem a just a couple of decades back in time.And if you think that, after the synoptic narrative is in wide circulation (the 70s CE), after the chaos and destruction engendered by the insrrection and full-scale war with the dominant military power of the era, anybody could definitively prove the contention that a certain Galilean rabble-rouser had not been crucified in Jerusalem on or about Passover after a shady back-room show trial, or even that anybody believed that they could, once again, you're simply not dealing with fundamental issues.And given that Ananus and the others were educated people, not simple peasants, I don´t see how they would have missed an opportunity to cut right at the root of a rival sect. Just like the later rabbis never cut at the root of the Christians.I'm going to state my thesis on this objection again, as clearly as I can: For ancient educated persons, the way to fight a myth was with a counter-myth, not by quibbling over factual matters (chronos) that couldn't be convncingly resolved in a fashion that defused the power (kairos) of the narrative for those who found mythic significance in it. The mythical aspect was "the root." The body was stolen. Jesus was the bastard of a Roman soldier. These counternarratives were simply perceived as more effective than appeals to the "historical record," because there just was no such thing as a shared empirico-rational view of that conceptual scheme, and it has nothing to do with anybody's wits, dim or otherwise.

  • Antonio Jerez

    C J wrote:"As to why a crucified Lord in the (pre-Markan) first place, that is the question. Such mythic reversals are a commonplace of ANE literature, though. It's a reimagination of the messiah as a redemptive figure, opposed to the idea of a political/military leader endorsed by other segments of Greco-Roman Palestinian Judaism." OK, I will try to take another tack on your hypothesis. You and other mythicists make much of the parallels with "mythic reversals that are commonplace in ANE litterature". Things like the Adonis, Tammuz and Osiris myths. The only problem is that all the reversal myths that I have heard about (I may have missed one though) are placed in a clearly mythical past, far, far away in time. We normally don´t get figures like Tammuz speaking aphorisms, parables and other other sayings that can be placed in a very specific timeframe and in a very specific location. And we normally don´t get figures like Tammuz placed in a dramatic setting were so many of the parnaphernalia for the play are clearly historical – like Golgotha, Caphernaum, Herod, Pilate, the Siloa dam etc etc. Which makes me wonder why Mark felt it neccessary to fill his wholly mythological drama with the very particular details that we find in his gospel. I don´t think it is enough to say that he got it from the Servant verses and a little bit of imagination.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    Evan, as I said earlier since you dispute the existence of Jesus, your asking for an undisputed fact about Jesus is a senseless request. On the other hand you were willing to accept Jesus baptism by John as widely agreed upon, so it would preclude Jesus nonexistence if Jesus was baptized by John. All it takes for the mythic Jesus theory to be false is Jesus existing. No other fact about him needs to be known. If one looks at all the evidence then the idea that that Jesus existed makes more sense than he was a fabricated person. Of course the Jesus myth only looks at parts of the evidence and feels it can discard the whatever doesn't fit the theory as irrelevant. Fortunately the only folks who will get caught up in this idea are the folks who need to be caught up in it. I think James is right about the comparison of this idea to creationism. From looking at all these post the the folks advocating the Jesus myth seem like True Believers and not ones to let evidence dissuade them from something they feel the need to believe. Why I'm not sure. I'm effectively atheist, and I don't like most forms of Christianity, but I don't feel that need to strengthen my "faith" in it by relegating Jesus to a myth. Maybe it's because I came to the conclusion by weighing the evidence and not out of hatred for organized religion or anything like that.Believing someone existed is a lot different than believing everything they say or believing what other people say about them. I'm not convinced that the Buddha ever found the enlightenment he was looking for. I have no concrete evidence that The Buddha existed, but I have no reason to believe that he is a mythical person. I think I would need to present a case before finding individuals traditionally believed to exist were fictions. assuming all persons are myths unless proven other wise would really wreck havoc on history as a study. It may be that you find history to be a speculative adventure and not a real science. That's fair enough.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Mike,from what I have have seen so far from our mythicist friends here on the blog we are mostly dealing with the same old standard arguments about interpolations and supposed parallells from the ANE literature that on a closer inspection don´t appear to be much of parallels after all. And I don´t really see why James is going to give one single minute of his precious time to an indepth review of Earl Doherty´s particular brand of mythicism. Doherty is definetely not worth it. It is really enough with 1 Thess 2:15 and Hebrews 2:9 and 5:7 to torpedo Doherty´s whole thesis.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Mike,I think you are mistaking the argument I am making on this particular thread and I would like to clarify that for you so you don't try to argue against a straw-man position. James argued that creationists and mythicists were similar and I and others have argued that the evidence differential between evo/crea and histo/mytho were worlds different. I listed (off the top of my head) 6 facts that nobody who accepts evolution could dispute. I didn't look anywhere and didn't have to stop typing once.I asked James if he could do the same. He consulted EP Sanders for a list of 6 facts.Of those 6 facts, you yourself have admitted that 5 are debated by mainstream scholarship.I ask you to bring up 5 facts that are hotly debated by mainstream scholarship in evolutionary biology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15112057471953902453 kilo papa

    Antonio Jerez said.."both Paul and the gospels attribute it(the love your enemies and the divorce command) to Jesus".Paul does no such thing. Paul frequently cites the Jewish scriptures to support a point that he is trying to make but he never attributes any saying of Jesus to anything other than "revelation" to Paul himself.Look at Malachi 2:16 for the likely source of Pauls divorce command. And in 1 Thes. 4:9 Paul attributes the command to love one another to God, not Jesus. In Romans 12:14 Paul commands his followers to "bless those who persecute you" but never endows that command with the authority that it came straight from the mouth of his savior.Antonio Jerez said…"It is really enough with 1 Thess. 2:13 and Hebrews 2:9 and 5:2 to torpedo Dohertys whole thesis".Are you really trying to have an honest conversation with this kind of drivel? There may be problems with the mythicists position but citing those 3 verses as examples is laughable. I think Doherty effectively deals with them on his website.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Kilo Papa,if you want as could as argument as can probably be made for the divorce command in the gospels go back to the historical Jesus and not to a reinterpretation of Malachi, then read John P Meier´s "A marginal Jew – Law and Love (vol 4). And the fact that Doherty has spent quite a few words on trying to explain away verses like 1 Thess 2:15 and Hebrews 2:9 and 5:7 does not mean that there is any real substance to his ruminations. In that he,like most mythicists act very much like creationists. Doherty is the Michael Behe of the mythicist cult – guy who just like Behe thinks he has given a chrushing blow to a Paradigm taken for granted by most scholars. And I suppose Kilo Papa, just like Behe´s followers, will go on grinding about the fact that so few mainstream scholars want to waste much ink on Doherty.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Antonio,Bummer that the Jesus Seminar, again mainstream almost by definition, disagrees with that. They do not consider the divorce sayings to be accurately representing the historical Jesus. Once again, the things that are disputed by people who believe that if there were a historical Jesus we can know nothing about him, are disputed by people who accept the existence of a historical Jesus.

  • Bibelkritisk

    Antonio:Regarding 1 Tess 2:15, there are a few scholars who seem to argue for that verse as a part of an interpolation: Pearsson, Mack, Meeks, Koester, Perkins, Brandon and Fredricksen. So Doherty is in good company.Regarding Hebrews 2:9: What is there to explain away?Regarding Hebrews 5:7: Doherty gives a reasonable interpretation of it within the framework of his theory: «Jesus, Neither God nor Man» pp 96, 175-6 and 227-8.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Evan,I don´t hold the fellows in the Jesus Seminar in a particularly high regard. I wouldn´t call them "mainstream". Most of the folks in the Jesus Seminar are just as theologically driven in their search for the historical Jesus as their opposites in the concervative camp. Funk, Crossan and the majority of the Jesus seminar have a liberal agenda which is why they usually vote the way they do. And I don´t see how voting about a particular saying really settles anything. Detailed arguments is what ultimately counts, and I think John P Meier has given the best so far on the divorce command.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Antonio, voting settles nothing. I'm glad you agree. That pretty much derails Dr. McGrath's position however. Glad to hear you are focused on arguments.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Bibelkritisk wrote:"Regarding 1 Tess 2:15, there are a few scholars who seem to argue for that verse as a part of an interpolation: Pearsson, Mack, Meeks, Koester, Perkins, Brandon and Fredricksen. So Doherty is in good company." I usually avoid using arguments about interpolations if we don´t have textual variants that would support that suspicion, or the language used make it pretty obvious that we are dealing with an interpolation (like the first passage about Jesus in Antiquities). But OK, Doherty has support for his speculation from some NT scholars."Regarding Hebrews 2:9: What is there to explain away?"What Doherty has to explain satisfactorily is how an allusion to Psalm 8 (verse 3-5), a passage that was widely understood by Jews to be a reference to humans on earth, would lead us to believe that the author of Hewbrews was actually alluding to a crucified fellow in the sublunar sphere. To make it clearer the author of Hebrews even quotes the psalm in 2:6-8.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Evan wrote:"voting settles nothing. I'm glad you agree. That pretty much derails Dr. McGrath's position however. Glad to hear you are focused on arguments."Yes I think James is really out on thin, thin ice when he points to "majority opinions" or scholars with academic credentials. If we are going to be guided by majority opinions among biblical scholars we would probably have to rate the resurrection of Jesus from the empty tomb in bright, bright red. The majority are conservatives. Personally I see much of the biblical business establishment as a joke. No matter how many how many doctor´s hats or professor titles they give each other the simple fact is that the standards are often abysmally low. Where else than in the bible business would a book like N T Wright´s "Jesus and the Victory of God" be treated with respect? Normal historians would have kicked him out from their classes a long time ago.

  • Bibelkritisk

    Antonio:"I usually avoid using arguments about interpolations if we don´t have textual variants that would support that suspicion, or the language used make it pretty obvious that we are dealing with an interpolation (like the first passage about Jesus in Antiquities). But OK, Doherty has support for his speculation from some NT scholars."It's interesting to note that even apologists like Eddy and Boyd in «The Jesus Legend» admit that the language of those verses are «arguably un-Pauline» and that those verses are the only reference in the entire genuine Pauline letters «that positively requires us to accept that Paul viewed Jesus as a recent historical person» (p.211)."What Doherty has to explain satisfactorily is how an allusion to Psalm 8 (verse 3-5), a passage that was widely understood by Jews to be a reference to humans on earth, would lead us to believe that the author of Hewbrews was actually alluding to a crucified fellow in the sublunar sphere. To make it clearer the author of Hebrews even quotes the psalm in 2:6-8." Well, obviously the author applies the psalm to Jesus (the crucufied fellow), and he doesn't state where or when the degradation or exaltation took place. Though Doherty makes his case from other verses of Hebrews that it took place in the sublunar realm. So I don't see your point.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Just a clarification about "voting" and consensus. I certainly don't think that scholarly consensuses are sacrosanct – my point all along has been that in both the natural sciences and in history and in most other disciplines, challenges to the consensus are raised all the time. Most of the challenges fail, and rightly so, because consensuses usually reflect either a preponderance of evidence or substantial debate that has led to resolution. But new evidence and new ideas are welcome. But the scholarly process involves presenting your ideas for critical engagement. There are people with web sites who proclaim "I know better than Einstein, I know better than mainstream biology, I know better than mainstream history." But they don't subject their work to evaluation by those experts, and usually persuade themselves of their own genius by reassuring themselves that the academy is biased and entrenched.If mythicists put their arguments forward in appropriate venues and allow them to be critically engaged in detail by those within the academy, I have nothing against it. But when the representatives of a particular view are not doing that it is usually a sign that one is dealing with crackpots rather than people with genuine insight. And so my point has never been about questioning a scholarly consensus. It has been about bypassing scholarship altogether and then complaining that your ideas aren't taken seriously.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Bibelkritik:"Well, obviously the author applies the psalm to Jesus (the crucufied fellow), and he doesn't state where or when the degradation or exaltation took place. Though Doherty makes his case from other verses of Hebrews that it took place in the sublunar realm. So I don't see your point."But isn´t this kind of reasoning exactly why it is so exasperating and why scholars normally don´t bother to talk with mythicist. Like claiming that the author of Hebrews doesn´t state "where or when" his hero met his death. If one wants to argue that the author of Hebrews is specifying a place called Golgotha in Jerusalem and a time in 36 AD, then obviously both Bibelkritik (a fellow Swede like me I suppose :) and Doherty are right. But Hebrews 2:5-9 show that the author is specific enough about one thing; his hero died on Earth – not on Mars, Pluto or some sublunar mythicist phantasy place. If Biblekritik or Doherty can show me examples that Jews in the 1st century or earlier believed that Psalm 8 was about a place other that Earth inhabited by humans or a sublunar sphere then they are free to present the evidence. I haven´t seen any so far and I guess we will have to wait even beyond the Parousia before Doherty and his allies finds any.

  • Antonio Jerez

    James wrote:"If mythicists put their arguments forward in appropriate venues and allow them to be critically engaged in detail by those within the academy, I have nothing against it. But when the representatives of a particular view are not doing that it is usually a sign that one is dealing with crackpots rather than people with genuine insight."James, I agree with you. But the problem is that the mythicists have the odds more stacked against them if they want to tackle the bible establisment than historicist crackpots like NT Wright who are really a disgrace to the whole profession.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Certainly the problem in this field is not that people who deserve to have their work published cannot get it published, but that there are people who seem to be able to get their work published even though its worth is questionable. I like the way Dale Allison took Wright to task on the resurrected saints in his recent book.

  • Antonio Jerez

    "there are people who seem to be able to get their work published even though its worth is questionable."James,QUESTIONABLE! Haha, that was a wonderful understatement. I think you professionals are just too kind to the multitude of crackpots in the business. But I suppose you can´t go around calling each other crackpots or incompetents when you will probably meet each other at the next JBL meeting :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Sorry, it was a hurried comment. Does this put it better, and make the overall point more clearly? If not, please do leave a comment! :)

  • Antonio Jerez

    James,it sure does. "Outlandish" is better. Although I am eagerly awaiting the day when you call one of your collegues a crackpot :)


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